Nov 10, 2006

Grace, Faith, and Works

Sometimes people accuse me of trying to work for my salvation because I believe the verse where Jesus says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments." This concept of obeying God is prevalent all throughout both the Old and New Testaments, yet I know so many who think that the Bible is not relevant for today, that it doesn't speak to our daily lives so much as it just tells us the message of the gospel. "Pray the sinner's prayer and that's the most important thing" is the attitude of so many evangelicals, especially those in the ministry and missionaries. I believe this is one of Satan's biggest lies. There is nothing in Scripture that tells us to pray the sinner's prayer in the first place, although I'm not necessarily against that. But if we use that prayer as "proof" of salvation, we may be damning some to hell by simply not telling them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I prayed the sinner's prayer when I was five, but I was no more "saved" than the man in the moon. It wasn't until I was well into my adult years that the truths of God's Word sunk deep into my heart.

Although I memorized Ephesians 2:8-9 as a young child, I still remember when it finally "clicked" with me that it actually means something profound. I grew up in a church that believed that each person has the choice to become a Christian or not - all man. Later, I went to a church that believed that you don't have any choice in the matter, that God chooses for you - all God. Wondering why there could be such a dichotomy between two obvious groups of believers, I finally realized the truths of "For by grace are ye saved through faith..." Suddenly, I saw that the grace part was God's part, and that the faith part was man's part. God did the choosing, but man always has a responsibility; God did not create robots to love Him, nor did he just sit up there and hope a few would love Him (no one seeks after God).

But on to the works part. Verse 9 is always quoted with this passage: "Not of works, lest any man should boast." And we stop here, saying works is not a part of salvation. But is that what Scripture really says? What if we go on to verse 10: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." What? God created us for good works and ordained before that we should do good works? Rather than pass this by, this is what I studied this morning.

One way I love to study Scripture is to make a list of how certain words are used in a certain passage. I just focus on one, or two words if they are related, and make a list of purely what Scripture says about that word. Today, I looked at James 2 and looked at the words faith and works. I will just share my list here with you.

What does it profit if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?

Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.”
Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!

Faith without works is dead.

Abraham was justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar.

Faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect.

A man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

Rahab the harlot was also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way.

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

Salvation by grace and faith; justification by faith and works. In other words, there must be fruit! Praying the sinner's prayer will not get you to heaven; works will not get you to heaven. By God's grace and our faith, true salvation will automatically produce good works, good fruit, that should be evident to all who see us. If I don't stand out as being different from the world, because I keep God's commandments, then what is the purpose of my salvation? To escape eternal damnation? No, I was created to do good works for Christ, to glorify God, and to serve Him. I pray that He will enable me to do just that.

10 comments:

Mark Epstein said...

Hon,

You have addressed the dichotomy. Too few understand the "if/then" construct, and fewer still understand the "response of the SAVED heart." Instead, many among us choose to subscribe to a heathen view that "the best way to predict the future is to invent it." May God save us from our selfish man-focused mindset. He is the all in all. We are nothing but His chosen servants. May we humbly serve Him in ALL ways and always.

Mark

Lin said...

Jen, I was convicted of this same thing reading Matthew 25. I saw that works should be pouring out of me as a result of my love for and faith in Christ. That chapter in Matthew is very convicting when you read it from a faith/works point of view.

Jen said...

Lin, thank you for that cross-reference. I shall put that on my list to study tomorrow!

Dangerous Gems said...

Jen,

"... justification by faith and works"

You (and Mark) should refer to reliable Christian commentaries to revise this statement. If you mean this, then your understanding of the Gospel in insufficient.

The reformation was fought over this principle.

Works do not contribute to our justification at all. They contribute to our sanctification.

You will cause harm to everyone who reads and believes your distortion.

Dangerous Gems

Jen said...

When I study the Bible, I don't use commentaries, preferring to see what God's Word says first. Everything in my list is a direct quote from James; I think you will have to take it up with him if you don't like it.

My point is that since even the demons "believe," there must be EVIDENCE of our faith, which manifests as works. It is a natural result of the initial action. Notice this is NOT a works-based salvation at all, but that the works naturally follow the faith, which follows God's grace. That was backwards, so to put it in order, God's grace toward us is naturally first, then our faith, which results in good works.

I believe this is VERY clear in Scripture.

Jen said...

Lin, you were right about Matthew 25! What a whole new perspective to study that passage in light of faith and works!

I noticed that faith-based "works" can take on many forms, starting with this passage in James where Abraham, in faith, offers up Isaac (works), which James said justified him.

This is greatly simplifying this chapter, but I saw that the parable of the virgins included the "work" of being prepared for the Lord's coming; the parable of the talents included the "work" of being faithful with whatever God has given us; and that "works" include giving food and drink to those who are in need, taking in strangers, clothing the naked, and ministering to the sick and those in prison. Jesus then says these incredibly thought-provoking words about those who see others in need but do nothing about it: "Inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt. 25:45-46)

ReformedCalvinist said...

It's refreshing to see someone who doesn't let Reformed Theology (or someone else's interpretation of it) stand between her and an understanding of the Scriptures.

Lin said...

Jen, I have sort of been around the block on this whole topic. My mom always preached faith without works is dead. But she was so natural in her works, it was just a part of her...who she was in Christ. I had a hard time with that.(The woman got up 2 hours before anyone and studied scripture every day. She had a joy I still cannot comprehend to this day)

Then, I started looking closer at the election issue and sort of pushed works aside as another commenter here alludes to.

This is all an issue of where are our hearts are. I think Matthew 25 is very clear. And that our works flow out of our faith and love for Christ. (i.e. You do it to ME)

I don't want to get too off topic but I am studying the 'heretics' which are mainly the Anabaptists before and during the reformation. The reformers had a 'sacrel church' which was a 'state' church that everyone was to belong to. It was mandatory and you belonged to the church in your area whether you wanted to or not.

Incredibly, one of the charges against the Anabaptists was their clean living and 'Community works'outside the sacrel church. They did not believe in a state church. This remnant had been around since Constantine made religion and government one and the same.

(The Anabaptist were also believers in election)

I think that because the reformed church was sacral and not voluntary, works became part of the government (magistrate, etc.)

Our faith should produce works out of our hearts like they did for the Anabaptists who were burned at the stake or banished for their
separatism.

Even Calvin'swritings in the Institutes is against these Anabaptists. One area where they really got on them was their 'evangelism' i.e., works. This went against the beliefs of the reformers that everyone was converted because they were in the mandatory reformed church. No 'works' were needed in this respect as far as they were concerned. The biggest problem the reformers had was to get the church members to act like Christians!

I really believe this legacy is part of their vehement arguments about any works at all being a part of our faith. It really is amazing how traditions we do not even know about affect our reading of scripture.

As Leonard Ravenhill said, You can have correct doctrine but not have the presence of God in your life. Works flow from the presence of God in your life. You cannot help it.

It has helped me understand why I spent so much time growing up in Nursing homes visiting strangers with my mom.

Matthew 25 is clear that my heart is not right and my faith not big enough because works are not naturally flowing out of me. These works take different forms..some are simply obediance. Others are helping others in need as indicated in parts of Matt 25.

What amazes me is how many times I have read Matt 25 and not noticed this until a dear friend and sister in Christ called me one day so overwhelmed by seeing this for the first time in her reading. I went back to study it and the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart.

Sorry for the long comment!

Jen said...

Lin, I think the whole purpose of my blog is being fine-tuned to "What saith the Scriptures?" Although I relate to Reformed Doctrine in so many aspects, I do not identify myself by any teachings other than those of God's Word. There are tools I can use to help me study God's Word, but that's where I stay - in God's Word.

When I learned how to really study the Bible BEFORE I ever went to a commentary, two things happened: first, I found that I didn't need commentaries very often; and second, I found that they don't always line up with what Scripture says.

Your mother, Lin, sounds like a perfect example of what naturally happens when we are so filled with the Lord in our life that we just can't help doing good "works" because we love Him and naturally desire to please Him! What a legacy she left you!

Maybe I should rename my blog "Sola Scriptura."

Robin said...

Dear Jen, I have tears in my eyes as I type this to you. How refreshing to read your blog. Your post on Grace, Faith and Works is right on, because it is all Scripture. I have come to the same conclusion as you have regarding commentaries, I read my bible and rarely read the commentaries anymore. I grew up in the Baptist church and never really knew what to believe regarding the Bible, so much of it seemed to contradict what I had been taught. Several years ago, I decided to just take Scripture at face value, without trying to explain it away to fit Baptist doctrine, when I did that the Word of God came alive to me. It has been an amazing growth experience. Right now we attend a Reformed church, but I would never call myself a Calvinist, I am only a follower of Christ not of Calvin or any other man or denomination. I will no longer read the Word of God through the eyes of any denomination or belief system. How freeing it is to love the whole Word of God and accept it just as it is written. God said what He meant, and He meant what He said, I will not add to it nor take anything away from it. I have noticed that people would much rather read what other men have to say about the Bible than to study it for themselves.

Also, I have been very interested in the Scriptures from the Jewish aspect. I grew up in a "New Testament" church and to be honest, I didn't care for the OT or the God of the OT, I much preferred Jesus, the kinder, gentler God of the NT. I rarely ever read the OT. I now love the whole counsel of God and read all of His word. It wasn't until I began to love the Tanakh that I really understood salvation, or even knew true character of God for that matter. So, I enjoy your posts regarding the Biblical feasts and holidays.

Believe it or not but I have actually been kicked off of two Christian homeschooling web forums because they say I promote works based salvation rather than grace alone through faith alone because I stressed obedience to the word of God. One forum owner told me that whatI believed was Catholic at best and refused to allow any other post from me. It has at times been discouraging because I don't really know of anyone else who believes the way I do. So, to read your blog today, was refreshing and I rejoice in the truth that you speak. Keep up the good work.
May God richly bless you and your family.
Robin